Pulitzer-Prize and Emmy Award-winning journalist, Trymaine Lee joins The Blackest Questions to talk about everything from his work with HBCU students who inspire him to his contribution to The 1619 Project.
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Pamana Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network Black Culture Amplified.
Christina Greer [00:00:06] Hi and welcome to The Blackest Questions. I’m your host, Dr. Christina Greer, politics editor for theGrio and associate professor of political science at Fordham University. In this podcast, we ask our guest five of the Blackest questions so we can learn a little bit more about them and have some fun while we’re doing it. We’re also going to learn a lot about Black history past and present. So here’s how this works. We have five rounds of questions about us, Black history, the entire diaspora, current events, you name it. And with each round, the questions get a little tougher and the guest has 10 seconds to get it right. If they answer the question correctly, they’ll receive one symbolic breakfast and they’ll hear this. And if they get it wrong, they’ll hear this. But we still have them anyway. After the five questions, there’ll be a Black bonus round at the end. Just for fun. I like to call it Black Lightning. So our guest for today’s episode is Trymaine Lee, Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning journalist. She mainly is a correspondent for MSNBC and host of the podcast Into America. He covers social justice issues and the role of race, violence, politics and law enforcement in America. In 2020, Lee launched the Race Report special MSNBC series that explored the intersection between race and politics in the election season. He also debuted Into America, the new podcast, elevating the voices of voters and demonstrating how policy impacts the day to day lives of Americans. Lee was also among the contributors to the New York Times magazine’s 1619 project, which earned a 2020 George Polk Award for its exploration of the role of slavery in America and its enduring effects in contemporary American society. Hello, Trymaine. Thank you so much for joining the Blackest Questions.
Trymaine Lee [00:01:46] Dr. Greer, thank you for having me. This is this. I’m a little nervous. I heard the run up. I’m a little concered.
Christina Greer [00:01:53] As I tell everyone. This is, you know, in my mind, Black history is American history. So this is just the time for us to have fun. Our listeners get to learn a little bit more about you. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, I might add. You know, you were part of a team that covered Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. You know, how did you get involved in journalism? Is this something that was always in your blood or did you kind of stumble upon it?
Trymaine Lee [00:02:20] You know, I think early on, like when I was just a kid, I knew I loved storytelling and I love writing and I loved reading poetry. And I started winning awards when I was like a kid, like in grade school, I was writing essays and winning awards. I think I also like the little handclaps. Like a little applause like, “Oh, I felt good. Like I can, ya’ll like this, I can do this.” And so early on, I knew I could write and I enjoyed doing it. And it wasn’t until maybe in high school, you know, I wasn’t, you know, sports, but I was also writing for the yearbook staff. I was like, I want to get paid to do this one day. It took me a long time to get to that point. But, you know, it all kind of came together. And once I realized that I wasn’t going to be Richard Wright necessarily, and I were going to be at least initially, kind of a hardcore street reporter covering police and crime and capturing our stories, our life and our death in that kind of way. I think I was like just locked in at that point.
Christina Greer [00:03:11] Did you have an English teacher that was a mentor to you? I mean, because I feel like I always bonded with my math teachers. I never bonded with my English teachers. And so now that I write for a living, I always struggle because, you know, writing is hard for almost everyone. But I really wish I had, like, bonded with an English teacher where I can, like, call them up and, like, get advice. Did you ever have one of those teachers or were you just kind of, I don’t know, on your own? And the words just kind of came to you from wherever?
Trymaine Lee [00:03:40] You know, I didn’t have that kind of mentor English teacher, but my English teacher was one of my football coaches and Coach Bueller. And I can remember doing doing stories and essays, and he’d have me like, come the other classes to read my stuff. And he was always just very supportive. I assume had a relationship with him because I saw him literally every single day after school or during school, throughout school. But he was an early supporter and believer in in my writing. And I think that, you know, did help me because he exposed me again. He would literally pull me into other classes and like, read the thing and I would read it in front of the class and it would be like it would be dope that I was doing it. Because also I don’t think people realized that I was about that life, because I was playing around with everybody hanging out and we could get it. And I don’t think, you know, that’s the one thing I’m going back to high school, you know, now, you know, you want to stunt a little bit like, “Oh, I know that.” Back then it was kind of keeping it cool a little bit. Like if somebody asked me for some help. I do a little help on the side. I like to write the poetry. And some people knew but it was dope to just step outside of myself a little bit and present that side of myself to people.
Christina Greer [00:04:42] Do you have a favorite writer or poet that you still sort of. When you need a little inspiration, you open up the book and kind of breeze through.
Trymaine Lee [00:04:49] It would be I mean, obviously this is you know, it’s Langston Hughes. It’s Amiri Baraka, it’s Richard Wright. Richard Wright, especially, I think, the original American Hunger. Right. This idea of this burning thing inside of us. And we’re responding to all the stimuli in the world and the systems around us and we’re responding, we’re fighting, and there’s anger in this violence and there’s actual hunger. I think that is a form the way I want to tell these stories about, again, Black life and death in America in a certain way, that there is always a response to things happening around us. But we also have agency in this and all the responses are valid and we’re still just trying to, you know, find our footing and push and push. And I think, yeah, definitely Richard Wright. Early on, especially.
Christina Greer [00:05:27] You know, I stumbled upon Richard Wright’s Rite of Passage. And I, you know, I used to live on the Upper West Side near Columbia. And that book deals with Morningside Park, you know, young, young boys who unfortunately have an unfortunate incident in the park. And you can tell the entrances and exits where they’re running in and out of the park. And I just remember reading that book, I stumbled upon it, buying it from a used bookstore, which is going in and out of the sections that it talks about. And I was like, This book isn’t often talked about, you know, I didn’t read it in school. I had never heard of it from any of my teachers or professors. But I think it’s like one of the most beautifully written stories about kind of Black urban youth.
Trymaine Lee [00:06:11] There’s something so potent and this is kind of obvious for people who are familiar with Richard Wright’s work, but there’s something so potent about it that comes right to the core of the experience, right? We talk about the twoness and I like that central and that it always has to be framed in the violence of it all. But there’s something in the violence of it all and the projection of the violence and not to be Frantz Fanon ish about it, but lashing out at, you know, each other because the colonized you can’t do that right. And so all have bound together and honestly especially Black boy it’s like I kind of understand that in a very kind of core connected kind of way.
Christina Greer [00:06:46] Are you ready, my dear friend, to play the Blackest Questions?
Trymaine Lee [00:06:49] I guess I’m you know, if you stay ready, you got get ready. So I guess I’m ready. Come in, come, come in ready
Christina Greer [00:06:56] Okay, let’s come in hot. Question number one. This civil rights attorney is known as Mr. Civil Rights, and he became the first Black U.S. Supreme Court justice. Who was he?
Trymaine Lee [00:07:09] Thurgood Marshall.
Christina Greer [00:07:12] Yes, Thurgood Marshall. I told you, you know, we start off smooth and then it gets a little more difficult. Okay, So for our listeners out there, Thurgood Marshall was one of the architects of the civil rights movement, passionately progressive attorney who helped end school segregation. He attended a segregated high school in Baltimore, my favorite city, and Lincoln University, historically Black university near Oxford, Pennsylvania. And his first choice for law school was actually the University of Maryland School of Law. But they didn’t admit Black students. So he attended Howard University School of Law instead, HBCU in Washington, D.C. and he graduated first in his class in 1933. And in 1934, he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People known as the NAACP, as its first special counsel with a mission to help end educational discrimination in the United States. So over the years, Thurgood Marshall became the face of civil rights litigation. He argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court. He won 29 of them, and he participated in hundreds of other cases in lower courts nation.
Christina Greer [00:08:11] And in the process, he traveled between 50 thousand and 75 thousand miles a year. I know you travel a lot, but Thurgood Marshall might have you beat. So he was crisscrossing the nation to oversee as many as 450 cases at a time. So in the early 1950s, he served as the lead attorney in what turned out to be the landmark civil rights lawsuit in the era of Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. And in May 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the 14th Amendment, which provides all U.S. citizens equal protection under the law, prohibits segregating public schools by race because segregated schools are inherently unequal. And so, even those states drag their feet to implement the ruling, it set a national precedent and helped spark much of the civil rights movement. So that is Thurgood Marshall, our very first Black Supreme Court justice. So I know that you’ve been traveling all over, but especially in the South, doing some really great reporting on HBCU’s. Can you give us a little preview as to what you’re doing and why?
Trymaine Lee [00:09:08] Yes. So we have this this series, this tour called Into America The Power of the Black Vote. We wanted to go across the country and engage with some of our best and brightest young minds about issues that matter to them. So we’ve traveled from Texas Southern University, North Carolina Central University, FAMU. Where else are we going? Jackson State University. And I think that’s I think that’s the you know, I feel like that did that commercial where the rappers on stage like “Thank you Cincinnati” and they said it was like “It’s Pittsburgh.” I’m like, I know him somewhere. But so so at each location we’re engaging with a different issue. Right? So in Texas Southern University, we talked about the battle over CRT and who are the gatekeepers of the truth and whose history matters. At North Carolina Central University, we are talking about the issue of student loan debt, right? At FAMU, great environmental science program that nobody knows about. Like these young people may very well save us and the world at the same time, and vulnerable communities with kind of innovative research into sea life and sea water and all kind of great stuff. And Jackon State University, these young people here have had the honor and privilege of walking in mighty big footsteps and standing on giant shoulders, issues like reproductive rights, but also the infrastructure and the racialization around the weaponizing of access to water. Right.
Trymaine Lee [00:10:27] So talking to these young people, I mean, once like inspired and I’m kind of like in all like they’re 18, 19 year old and they’re just ’bout it. Like we were ’bout it, but they have a full grasp of all the systems at play here. Where I think at 18, 19 I kind of understood right and lived experience at the reading. But these kids are activating in a way that I think is just so important. So we wanted to go cross-country and do just that, right? So we have this big town hall special at Southern. We have this whole podcast series, doing a TV around it. It’s really an amazing endeavor, right? Just to be able to crisscross the South and engage these schools. But as a reminder that we might might, maybe might be okay, I think maybe.
Christina Greer [00:11:10] Well, okay, we’re going to take a quick commercial break, but I’m here with Trymaine Lee playing the Black as questions. And you are one for one brother.
Trymaine Lee [00:11:16] One row. Let’s go. All right.
Christina Greer [00:11:24] And we’re back playing with those questions with Trymaine Lee. All right. Are you ready for question number two?
Trymaine Lee [00:11:30] I think so.
Christina Greer [00:11:32] I’m going to remind you, the questions get a little harder. But don’t forget. Black history is American history. And the goal is not to get everything right. It’s just for us to learn together on an intellectual journey. So question number two. CNBC recently highlighted this 24 year old Canada based creative who recently sold over $300,000 in NFTs. Who is she?
Trymaine Lee [00:11:57] I have no idea. Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let me think about this. 24 years old. Canada. NFTs. I don’t even know what a NFT is, but I don’t know. I know what a NFT is. I do not know who this person is.
Christina Greer [00:12:14] It’s Lana Denina. And so Lana Denina is based in Montreal, Canada, and started selling NFTs of paintings she created one by one. But later began to list entire collections. So the Mona Lana collection includes 500 unique portraits of women created by Lana Denina, and each portrait was generated by code with 112 different traits. And so since February 2021, Lana Denina has earned over $300,000 from selling her art as NFTs or non-fungible tokens on various platforms. And unlike traditional markets for Art, NFTs and Web3 allows artists to create their own galleries and set their own prices online. And so artists can also earn royalties on secondary sales of their work with NFTs and Denina herself earns 10%. So once the Mona Lana collection passes 100 ether in volume traded Denina plans to give a percentage of sales to Cyberbot. A creative or creator duo collective that supports African artists and donates to women’s shelters in Canada.
Christina Greer [00:13:16] So Trymaine, I don’t know much about NFTs. I definitely don’t know much about the NFT art world, but I was so fascinated by this idea of young people and creativity and technology and the arts movement. I know you’ve been on these HBCU campuses and spent a lot of time with young people. We’ve also had lots of conversations about art and Black art and the importance of surrounding ourselves with Black art just because the world outside of us is just unwelcoming at times. And so when you think about art, who sort of sets your heart ablaze in a great way. Like, you know, when you think about Black artists who brings a smile to your face and sort of glisten in your eye? Wow.
Trymaine Lee [00:13:58] Listen. A flutter. First of all, big shot out to Lana. That’s dope and beautiful. And like, that’s just amazing, right? You know, I think. You know, a Jacob Lawrence. Like my one of my favorite periods in history is the Great Migration and how the mass movement of us reshaped America and our politics, our cuisine, our music and our art. And few artists to me have documented a child migration, have documented so beautifully, like the everyday nature of life, Right? The heroes among us who are going to work and literally building cities or studying in the Schomburg. Right. Or historical figures Toussaint Louverture and Harriet Tubman. His work just kind of grounds me in this experience as Americans. Because when I see that, I’m just like I feel like I recognize myself in that work. And then is it like a Gordon Parks on the flip side of art, right? As a photographer, I think a Gordon Parks captures a similar kind of everyday common man, the extraordinary folks like the Muhammad Ali’s the world and all the architects, but also everyday Black Americans in ways that really reflect and reveal our beauty that we all know is there. And I don’t think you need to do it in seeking the white man’s approval. I don’t think he ever did. Right. And he tells it because his weapon of choice was his camera. Gordon Parks But I think Jacob Lawrence is I tried to get into the Romare Bearden because sometimes little my eyes I’m trying to understand what I’m seeing, which I kind of do.
Christina Greer [00:15:26] The collage can be really intense for some people.
Trymaine Lee [00:15:29] It can. Yeah, but it’s a little tough.
Christina Greer [00:15:33] Well, you know, I love Jacob Lawrence. He’s definitely one of my favorites. He and William Johnson. What I really love. I had the opportunity to see that entire migration series a few years ago when it came through New York. I believe those 60 panels that they got from all the different museums and collectors. And what I thought was so fascinating now is just what you said about, you know, the mass movement of Black bodies, especially going from the south to the north because of jobs and industry. And he’s got that famous painting where it’s like Chicago, Saint Louis, Pittsburgh. You know, you think about August Wilson and you think about Detroit and, you know, all you know, all the great Black people who come out of Chicago. But also he’s got some that really document this kind of fleeing domestic terrorism of the South as well. You know, it’s not just about jobs in the north. It’s about what’s going on in the south and how people are taking these midnight trains to escape white supremacy and the violence that is in the south. I just think that, you know, that juxtaposed with a Gordon Parks, as you said, you know, his Life magazine photos that are and shout out to Andre Wagner, who I call it the modern day Gordon Parks, you know, the young cat he did the most famous for the Queen and Slim poster that shoots for The New York Times and was the Gordon Parks fellow. But, you know, documenting us, just doing the mundane is eating, eating fast food or waiting at the bus stop to go to work or just doing work, you know, at a shop. I just think that those those pieces of art, as you said, are these foundations of reminders of who we are, this.
Trymaine Lee [00:17:06] Radical notion of just existing and being and breathing in your own skin. But also, Jacob Lawrence have forgot the title of this series That was like American history generally. Right. So you had Washington or Delaware. You had different aspects of it. And sometimes having a Black reflection of just history, period, and including us in it because we know we’ve been marginalized and sidelined and almost erased. And they’re still doing it today, erasing our existence and our contributions to this place. But for him to also tell our story, but tell the American story, which is full, right? It’s us. It’s them. The way I think our history is often described, what’s Black history like? We hear by ourselves, like in a silo, just doing Black people stuff as opposed to we are bouncing off and moving around and conflating with and intertwined with white folks and Native American people. And all the people of this country were ground up for the benefit of some. Right. Equally as important.
Christina Greer [00:17:59] Well, that’s why I always say, like this podcast, it’s like this isn’t just for Black people to learn about, you know, Black people past and present. It’s for everyone. I mean, you know, I always say it’s like white people should be enraged that they didn’t learn about this stuff in school. They should be angry. You know, a lot of us learned about it at home. You know, granted our parents couldn’t cover everything that wasn’t covered in school. But I feel like, you know, non-Black people should feel like their education system has failed them by not knowing these things. Time for a quick break. We’ll be right back. Welcome back to the Blackest Questions. Now, you said something about, you know, this contribution and to making sure that our history isn’t erased. How is it that you got tied into the 1619 project? Because your contribution is a beautiful reflection. So how did that come to be?
Trymaine Lee [00:18:49] Thank you very much. I appreciate that. The homie Nikole Hannah-Jones, the brilliant, you know, queen mother of the project. You know, we’ve been friends for a long time. She’s a force. She’s truly a force.
Christina Greer [00:18:59] She’s a real one, as they say.
Trymaine Lee [00:19:01] And she’s been a real one before. Before she became. Nikole Hannah-Jones 1619. So we’ve been friends for a long time. And she came to me, and we were actually in a conversation about 1619 approaching, and she’s like, “Well, actually got this thing we’re doing. I would love for you to be a part of it.” And I had an idea of something I want to do, and I had other stuff and I was like, “I don’t know, Nikole.” And she’s like, “You’re going to want to do this.” And this before she knew what it would become. And Nikole is the type of person when she said something this way, she said, I was like, she’s basically telling me that I have to do it. So it’s like I says, You’ve been told I didn’t want to get told. And by the way, she said at first she was like, “Trust me, you’re going to want to do this. And it’s important I want to have your voice in it and it’s important.” She was, you know, gathering a collection of writers who she saw in a certain vein and wanted not mushy mouth, mealy mouthed politicizing none of that. She’s like, I want real Black writers to write these real Black stories about the founding of America and how, you know, all the ways that we’ve been intertwined with this.
Trymaine Lee [00:20:02] And so she told me to do it. And I said, yes, ma’am, I will do it. And it was honestly one of the more rewarding things in my career. And I feel like I’ve done a lot. I’ve always tried to shake my career in a way that is of like, I’m trying to, like, leave something for the aliens come back, they understand how we’ve lived in America. And the tapestry in a very, I’ve tried to do in a way was like then I take large once like every day through crime and violence, politics and education and aspiration, all those things. You know, be tap on Nikole, you know, to write a chapter in this book knowing that this was going to have a transformative not knowing fully, but at some point realizing what we were doing here. We have this transient, transformational kind of thing happening in America and have everyone from the president and the Congress either hating it or applauding it and forcing people to grapple with this America that we’ve been told it never really existed. The mythology surrounding what we believe this place to be. It was just it’s just an honor and a gift. And it’s just it’s amazing that the leg that the book has had, like, it’s still moving.
Christina Greer [00:21:11] It still has it still has legs. And I just you know, before we go to break, I just what I love about your writing is it always feels like it’s in service to Black people.
Trymaine Lee [00:21:21] Thank you.
Christina Greer [00:21:22] Like you were writing not to win awards, of which you have Many people can Google you, but you’re writing because you love Black people and you were writing to make sure that our stories are told. And so that’s I think that’s what comes off of the page, not just from the 1619 Project, but for so many of your other projects that I’ve read that you’ve been acknowledged for. But it’s just it seems to be of service to Black people, which I think is the the, the through line to all of your projects.
Trymaine Lee [00:21:49] When I hear that, though, you know that my work is in the service and that’s everything to me. And what’s interesting is when people come up to me and it’s never white people, everyone, I’ve had like two white people come with me. They mean, you know, whatever they’ve written to me, an email, whatever. But when Black people come up to me and say, Hey, thank you, or keep up the good work or whatever it is, that is every that physically was like, look, like my grandmother looks like my aunt, my uncle. What it’s like is like my people that see me and appreciate that that is the entire reward. And they would be like the pride, philanthropy with pride that they can look at me and say, yeah he’s that’s, that’s us. That is absolutely.
Christina Greer [00:22:31] There’s nothing.
Trymaine Lee [00:22:31] Better than nothing. Not an award because. Yes. Thank you. I want those two and I like the check and I like elected. Yes, please. But honestly, when I started the Philadelphia Tribune, the Black Press, it was in service of us and telling our stories and that love from the church folks, when you go to do the story and love from the neighborhood and I know you’re going to do it the right way, that you’re not going to be funny business or you’re not going to try to be telling a story through others eyes. Right? It’s us, the good, the bad and ugly, because some of the stories are ugly.
Christina Greer [00:22:59] Right.
Trymaine Lee [00:22:59] But that it matters that I’m doing it. And that means so. Yes. Thank you very much.
Christina Greer [00:23:03] Wow. Okay. Let’s take a quick break. I’m here with Tryamine Lee on the Blackest Questions. All right. We are back. I’m here with Trymaine Lee and The Blackest Questions. We’re doing alright, you know, one out of two. You ready for question number three?
Trymaine Lee [00:23:22] I am. I think I feel like two was like a little bit tricky one. It’s Canadian, but I’m here. I’m ready. I’m here.
Christina Greer [00:23:28] Okay. Question number three, known as the superhero of filmmaking and considered a true pioneer of the film industry. He was the most successful African-American director of the first half of the 20th century. Who was he?
Trymaine Lee [00:23:44] Micheaux.
[00:23:46] Yes. Oscar Micheaux.
Christina Greer [00:23:48] Between 1919 and 1948, he wrote, produced, directed and distributed more than 45 films for African-American audiences who watched these race, which all-Black films in the 700 theaters that were part of the ghetto circuit, as it was called. So it’s been 90 years since he became the first Black filmmaker to produce a sound feature film with The Exile. It’s been 70 years since his death, and still Micheaux’s impact hasn’t been fully measured or recognized by Hollywood in a lot of ways. So he’s the child of formerly enslaved people. And as America’s preeminent Black filmmaker for almost three decades, Micheaux started the Micheaux Film Corporation and made it over 40 films. Often as a writer, director and producer. And like Alfred Hitchcock, he often cameoed in his own work. And so he financed those movies any way you could, including incredibly selling stock in his company to white farmers in South Dakota. And in 1986, the Directors Guild of America honored Micheaux with a lifetime achievement award. And in 2010, the U.S. Postal Service issued a Micheaux commemorative stamp. In 2019, the Micheaux’s masterpiece, Body and Soul, was selected by the Library of Congress for Preservation in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically and esthetically significant. Are you familiar? Have you seen any of Oscar Micheaux’s films, or do you just know about his work through some of your research and writing elsewhere?
Trymaine Lee [00:25:09] Yeah, I’m not super duper familiar with the films. I’ve I’ve seen pieces of the films. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fool like Oscar Micheaux film. But the one thing I’ve always loved about, you know, what I have seen of Oscar Micheaux’s work is similar to like, have you ever see the old photo album from like the 1930s or twenties and maybe some middle class family in Minnesota or some guy in Harlem? It captures a different side of Black life back then. Like it wasn’t all just sharecropping and it wasn’t this wasn’t that. And so in those period films with race films where it’s like there at the work just playing in the Black folks dancing and there’s some sort of romance thing. And then something happened, the guy flee and in car it just gives a different, probably a truer version. Obviously it was still the industry. It was still the industry, right. And he’s still trying to forge a way where there was no way, I’m sure he had to acquiesce to some forces about how you present Black folks. But I love that it shows a fuller picture of Black life in America during a pretty specific kind of time. Right? The 30s and 40s.
Christina Greer [00:26:08] We’re full people, right. It’s not all doom and gloom and sadness and downtrodden and long faces. It’s like we’ve actually always had joy and laughter and dancing and family and relationships and drama and shenanigans. I mean, I think that’s the beauty of these films. Do you have a favorite Black director?
Trymaine Lee [00:26:26] Oh, Spike Lee. Spike Lee is my you know, Spike Lee is really absolutely my favorite. I mean, I watch when I watch do the right thing and I must have been, I don’t know, 13, 12, 13, 14, whatever. However, whatever age I was, it just spoke to me because it hit all the things in my brain. It was like the Jordans and Public Enemy and fighting the system and the culture, all the visual language that he used.
Do The Right Thing [00:26:52] 1989. The number. What I tell you about that noise. What I tell you about the picture.
[00:26:57] Those long, beautiful scenes where the guys were out on the block and the interaction between him and the son and Sal, we all knew a Sal. And you work with some Sals who like, you kind of got a good relationship with them, but, you know, they’re kind of racist. Like growing up in South Jersey with regular working class white people not ripe with money. They’re friends of yours. You know the dad is racist. You know the mom is racist. But we’re all in the same community. We’re friends. And you’re doing that kind of dance around those dynamics and so Do the Right Thing and then Malcolm X, personal hero of mine, Malcolm X, the epic work that that that was. I think that he did it when no one believed in him and he did it in a time think about coming out of the eighties and nineties whereas like you can’t be mad and angry Black man all these things, right? Black folks got access to industry and some money, so now you have to kind of assimilate as much as possible. And he’s like confronting that head on.
Christina Greer [00:27:48] Yeah, I mean, I got to say, my favorite Spike film is school. I’m a sucker for musicals and I’m a big Rodgers and Hammerstein fan.
Rodgers and Hammerstein [00:28:03] See if I care.
Christina Greer [00:28:04] But to see, you know, first Tisha Campbell. Shot out. Samuel L. Jackson and Laurence Fishburne, I mean, like, you know, just Giancarlo Esposito. I mean, the casts alone say nothing. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, the whole cast. But the fact that you have a musical at an HBCU,.
Trymaine Lee [00:28:22] Right.
Christina Greer [00:28:23] You know, and their whole fraternity.
Trymaine Lee [00:28:24] Colorism.
Christina Greer [00:28:25] My mom’s an AKA, my dad’s a Que. Yeah, exactly. And hair I mean, all the things that I think as a young Black girl we talked about in my family, you know, my mom’s more brown skinned than my sister myself. You know, this idea of like, what is good hair, you know, and that rejecting that that construct. But also, you know, my dad’s a Que, like so many of my my cousins are my Que cousins. So I’ve seeing this frat scene, you know, obviously, I wasn’t around when my dad was pledging or pledging other people. But this idea of like fraternity and brotherhood and why people would want that even was just instilled.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:01] Yeah.
Christina Greer [00:29:02] That that one school days is light years ahead of all of the other Spike films for me and and you know obviously Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X are way up.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:11] The thing about Samuel L. Jackson, the scene where they’re at the restaurant and it’s like what it means to be middle class and Black or educated and Black. Juxtaposing like what it means to be real regular Black folks, right? And that dynamic, I think he exposeds a lot of things there. There’s a conversation for us and that’s another one that that we will understand those dynamics because we’re all bouncing around somewhere between those forms of Blackness.
Christina Greer [00:29:32] School Daze is almost 30 years old.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:35] It gotta be more. Is it more?
Christina Greer [00:29:36] I need to look at my. I mean listen we’re getting old.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:41] Some of us are getting old. Some of us getting better. I don’t know.
Christina Greer [00:29:44] Oh, that’s right.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:46] I just had a birthday.
Christina Greer [00:29:46] That’s right.
Trymaine Lee [00:29:47] Listen.
Christina Greer [00:29:48] Like a fine wine. That’s right. Virgo season’s over, sir
Trymaine Lee [00:29:52] That’s all year round. What you mean.
Christina Greer [00:29:56] That’s right. No, it’s only going to get better. I mean, that’s the beauty of, you know, sort of acknowledging we get to be this age, you know, we get to have graying hair. it’s a blessing.
Trymaine Lee [00:30:08] This idea of aging while Black. I’ve been having this thought in this conversation, what it means to be a old Black man in America. I cannot wait to get all the grays. Let me be a 90 year old cantankerous, ya’ll better stop playing with me, Black man, because Black men don’t make it this far, right? We don’t. We often don’t. Our life expectancy is years and years below white men, certainly, and Black women, of course, and the attacks on all fronts. And so I think, you know, I rejoice in getting older and more grays trying to get the whole thing down here is starting to get gray. But it’s like, guess what? I earned them and thank you.
Christina Greer [00:30:41] Every every gray. Every gray tells the story.
Trymaine Lee [00:30:44] What’s the opposite of getting older, right? We trying to be here. So now we can go to a break.
Christina Greer [00:30:49] We are here. That’s right. Right, right. We’re going to take a quick break here, I’m here with Tryamine Lee. Okay, we’re back. We’re playing the Blackest Questions and we are going to zoom through Question number four. Are you ready, Mr. Lee?
Trymaine Lee [00:31:05] I think so?
Christina Greer [00:31:05] Okay. A block in Harlem, New York, where a groundbreaking tennis star grew up, will now bear her name. Who was she?
Trymaine Lee [00:31:14] I want to say Althea Gibson.
Christina Greer [00:31:16] You are correct. Killing the the game today.
Trymaine Lee [00:31:18] There we go.
Christina Greer [00:31:19] So Althea Gibson was born to sharecroppers in Clarendon County, South Carolina, in 1927, when the cotton market collapsed in the latter part of the decade. Gibson and her family relocated to Harlem, and that’s where she first picked up a tennis racket. In 1956, she would become the first African-American to win a Grand Slam event taking place in the French championship. The following year, she became the first African-American to win England’s famed Wimbledon tournament. And by the time she retired from amateur tennis in 1959, Gibson had claimed 11 Grand slam titles and was the first Black woman to be ranked number one player in the world. And so I always think about Althea Gibson, because obviously there’s so much conversation about Serena as the GOAT as she is and her recent retirement or, as she said, evolving from tennis as a sport. And I know that, you know, we’ve talked you’re a big Serena fan, but I always want to remember Althea Gibson, because without Althea, there is no Venus and Serena, and there’s definitely no Coco or Naomi Osaka and all the new generations of amazing Black tennis players that we see today. Do you follow tennis at all? I mean, you mentioned that you played football in in high school. Do you ever pick up a racket?
Trymaine Lee [00:32:29] Never pick up a racket. And it’s interesting you bring up Serena. That’s the reason I watch tennis now. And I just started watching the men just started. So I’m, like, locked into women’s tennis and Williams sisters. Tennis in particular. Well, I love, you know, the frame here of, like, there, you know, Althea swung so Serena could dominate, Right? Because think about how tough it was for Serena and Venus to move through that very white, wealthy world where there were still some Black folks at the country club, a few. Althea Gibson, wasn’t nobody at the country club. Nobody there. Nobody there to support. Most of them really, honestly didn’t want you there, like really, truly didn’t want you there. And you’re challenging policy and laws just to be able to to engage in a sport that you love. And so while I’ve never played tennis, I’ve hit a ball a few times in something and working on mechanics saying, right, I need a little more time. I’m sure I’d be good at it by some time, but they brought me into tennis. That’s the only reason I watch tennis is because the Williams sisters.
Christina Greer [00:33:28] So I played tennis for a very long time. I’m not good. I always tell people I actually ugly tennis. So in my head I was so people in my head, I look like Althea.
Trymaine Lee [00:33:38] Yeah.
Christina Greer [00:33:39] On the court, I don’t.
Trymaine Lee [00:33:40] Right.
Christina Greer [00:33:40] And so it’s interesting because growing up, I always knew about Althea Gibson. I don’t know if I had a book. I don’t know if my parents told me about her. So when the Williams sisters came on the scene, you know, for me, it was like, oh, they’re an extension of this woman that I had heard about who’s this amazing tennis player. And obviously Arthur Ashe was another person that I’d heard about as a young kid. But whenever I think of a racket, I always feel like the spirit of Althea Gibson is with me. But unfortunately, the spirit doesn’t help me get the ball across the net, just so we have the confidence to keep going back to the court.
Trymaine Lee [00:34:15] I think there was without the Gibson in those people that we learned about when we were young, there was this kind of dignity and pride and it was so classy representing like, you’re a credit to your race kind of thing. And then when like Serena and Venus, it was like both. Like we got our beads and we don’t even want to be part of this. We’re from compton. We’re about to dominate. And that power was a juxtaposition. But again, they’re not even bookends. But there are different way stations in the journey of Blackness. We’re classy and we’re upright and we’re also like, we’re not here to play. And I loved that kind of trajectory from Althea to the Williams sisters.
Christina Greer [00:34:50] Yeah, well, I think, you know, before we go to break, I think this is the the through line of our conversation today. It’s like there’s so many different ways to be Black and to celebrate Blackness. And that’s the beauty of who we are in this country and how we’ve created our identity out of, you know, whatever was given and what we decided to take. We’ve created some of the most beautiful, diverse, dynamic ways of representing ourselves. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick break. And with Trymaine Lee, you’re listening to the Blackest Questions. And we’re back. I’m here with my dear friend Trymaine Lee, and we’re about to hit up question number five. Are you ready?
Trymaine Lee [00:35:32] I’m ready.
Christina Greer [00:35:33] The emergence of this all female military regiment was the result of their male population facing high casualties in the increasingly frequent violence and warfare with neighboring West African states. Who were they?
Trymaine Lee [00:35:45] I know this, too. Dahomey. What is it, what is it? It was the Dahomey. But I don’t know what the sisters was called.
Christina Greer [00:35:57] I think we’re going to give you the point. It’s the Dahomey Warriors.
Trymaine Lee [00:36:01] There we go.
Christina Greer [00:36:02] So you are correct. We have the Dahomey Warriors, one of the few documented female armies in modern history. And Dahomey were an all female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey, which existed from the 1600s until 1904, and soldiers were recruited from Freed Dahomey women. But there were hundreds of soldiers who were also from from foreign captives. And during their membership, they were not allowed to have children or be married. And the largest ethnic groups were found primarily in Benin, in the southern region, but they were also found in southwest Nigeria and Togo. And the total population is estimated to be about 3.5 million people when it was all said and done. And European colonizers consider the historical capital city of Dahomey as a major commercial center for the slave trade and part of the area they called the Slave Coast. Recently, there was a film that just came out called The Woman King, starring Viola Davis as the general of the Dahomey Warriors. And it’s been under quite a bit of a spotlight. Some people love it, and some people are saying that we should boycott it. Have you seen the film just yet, Trymaine?
Trymaine Lee [00:37:03] I have not seen it. I’ve heard about the controversy. I understand the controversy over it. I’ve heard great things about Viola Davis performance in the movie generally. And so I don’t know how they address the elephant in the room, but it seems like it’s a great opportunity to have a discussion about, you know, the the, you know, Africans taking part in the slave trade. And we know Dahomey where that one quote by the king was like, you know, “our women sing lullabies about conquering our enemies and making them slaves.” Yeah, I think it’s it’s a good reminder that, you know, Europe created these boundaries, right, And made Congo, the Congo and made Nigeria, Nigeria. They weren’t that before. They were different peoples in different regions of this country. I mean, this continent who were at odds. Right. And white folks did fuel that by introducing the gun. Right. The gun for slave cycle and all that stuff. So it’s it’s a very complicated history. And I don’t know how much they engage with all of that in the film, but it sounds like it’s a great opportunity to build the conversation around it.
Christina Greer [00:38:01] Yeah, I agree. You know, I have yet to see it. I always like to support Black films. I try and go and see them on opening weekend just so they can get those numbers. But you know, the schedule’s been schedule. But I definitely do want to support just because, you know, if you don’t have the ticket sales, then they feel these stories don’t need to be told, which is, as you said, I think it is a complex and complicated history that at least if nothing else, to start a conversation about, maybe someone will want to pick up a book to see what the reality was, because obviously we know that this is a fictional portrayal, the like. Yes. It wasn’t just everybody, you know, on the continent of Africa being best friends and braiding hair and, you know, sisterhood. It’s like, no, folks are bellicose. Like, that’s just that’s what it is. That’s the nature of human beings, sadly. And so it’s a complicated history that, you know, it was complicated before the Europeans got there and definitely a lot more complicated once they left. Okay. So we’re going to take a quick commercial break and then we’re going to come back and play Black Lightning. So we are back with my dear friend Trymaine Lee. And so, Trymaine, before we let you get out of here, we’ve got time for the Black bonus round. And this is a round where whatever comes to mind is the right answer. Okay. So this is just a way for our audience to get to know you.
Trymaine Lee [00:39:20] Sounds dangerous.
Christina Greer [00:39:21] A little bit better. Okay, you ready? These are just hot takes.
Trymaine Lee [00:39:26] I’m ready. OK.
Christina Greer [00:39:27] Favorite city, Philly or New York?
Trymaine Lee [00:39:29] Philly.
Christina Greer [00:39:32] Swimming or fishing?
Trymaine Lee [00:39:37] Swimming where? I think it depends. I love fishing, but if we in Turks and Caicos and that water is turquoise, I need to be swimming in that. But it’s hard. I don’t know. It depends on where. I love fishing, though.
Christina Greer [00:39:46] Okay. Favorite fish to catch?
Trymaine Lee [00:39:50] Oh, large mouth. Well, smallmouth bass has a lot of fight in them. They’re small but mighty but large mouth. They’re predator fish, and so you have to angle to get them. They’re not dumb either, so you got to get them. So I’ll say large mouth.
Christina Greer [00:40:02] Okay. Hot take. Best stand up comedian Mike Epps or Katt Williams?
Trymaine Lee [00:40:10] I would have to say Mike Epps. Katt Williams, there’s a genius to Katt Williams. There’s something really special about Katt Williams. But I got to go with Mike Epps, everyman kind of thing. Like, I like Mike. Oh, that’s hard. That’s hard because Katt Williams is. I think he a genius.
Christina Greer [00:40:28] Okay. Alarm clocks or natural rise?
Trymaine Lee [00:40:35] A natural rise always good.
Christina Greer [00:40:36] Okay. Air Jordans are Yeezys?
Trymaine Lee [00:40:39] Jordans. I don’t even understand Yeezys. I don’t understand.
Christina Greer [00:40:42] They look like space shuttle shoes.
Trymaine Lee [00:40:44] I don’t understand them.
Christina Greer [00:40:45] 90s hip hop or 90s R&B Soul.
Trymaine Lee [00:40:48] It’s not even a fair question. I mean, I mean am I on an island and I only listen to one or.
Christina Greer [00:40:54] Yes.
[00:40:55] I’m on a island and I can only listen to one I would probably have to say. I’m going to say 90s R&B because I think I but I don’t know if I could say I don’t know 90s R&B.
Christina Greer [00:41:07] Okay if you have to choose Allen Iverson or Isaiah Thomas?
[00:41:10] 90s hip-hop. 90s hip-hop.
Christina Greer [00:41:12] Okay, 90s hip-hop. If you had to choose Allen Iverson or Isiah Thomas?
Trymaine Lee [00:41:15] Iverson all day. The Answer.
Christina Greer [00:41:17] Okay. And do you prefer dining in or taking out?
Trymaine Lee [00:41:23] Dining in or taking out? Oh, probably. I guess it depends. I mean, I like a good dining out situation. I like a yeah, it’s almost like calling out to work on in the works. I think I’m using these things differently. I’d like sitting in a restaurant at times, but it’s not like you getting back to crib. Get some food, watch a movie. Listen to music. Have a little taste, a little something. I want an adult beverage if you’re of age. One or two.
Christina Greer [00:41:45] Only if you are of age.
Trymaine Lee [00:41:45] Only. Children.
Christina Greer [00:41:46] Only. Right. This is a responsible podcast, Trymaine. Listen, I want to thank you so much for joining us on the Blackest Questions. I hope you learned a little something today. I know our listeners loved hearing about your thoughts on art and writing and literature. And promise that you’ll come back and give us a little bit more about what you’re up to.
Trymaine Lee [00:42:07] Dr. Greer This has been an amazing, wonderful, fun experience. I was a little nervous at first because I didn’t want to disappoint my people, but I feel like we gave something to people and I got something myself. So thanks for having me.
Christina Greer [00:42:18] You are always of service to the people. Let’s take a quick commercial break and we’ll be back in a moment. And we’re back. Thank you so much for listening to the Blackest Questions. The show is produced by Akilah Sheldrick, Jesse Vargas and Sasha Armstrong. If you like what you heard, please download theGrio app to listen and watch many more great shows and share it with everyone you know.